It’s been said that a good leader looks beyond to how things might be and how a charity can adapt? How would you encourage leaders in the sector to be forward thinking?

Future-focused leaders are themselves always Curious and Courageous. ‘What are we not thinking about” is a regular question such leaders ask. They encourage this behaviour in their team.

Their curiosity makes them strive to see what is beyond the immediate horizon, thus setting sights on long-term goals and possibilities. Their visionary thinking gives them the courage to navigate uncertainty and stay agile to embrace change with confidence. They also understand the transformative power of technology and how it can drive efficiency, productivity and innovation.

Future-focused leaders need to create a culture of trust within the team/ organisation/sector. Trust is the ultimate human currency for unlocking a spirit of performance.

As a trainer how important do you feel professional development is for a fundraiser?

The pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong commitment if we believe in professional development. Organisations need to prioritise continuous learning and encourage their teams to upgrade their skills and capabilities, to ensure that the organisation remains adaptable and responsive to evolving trends and stakeholder needs.

Having said that, each fundraiser should also take personal responsibility for one’s own professional development – through understanding our own professional aspirations, interests and learning preferences and finding ways to achieve those objectives.

I used to work for organisations hence I do understand that I have to stay within allocated budgets for my professional development. However, I would identify areas in which I personally want to develop my skills or network and invest my own resources of money and time to sharpen my capabilities which, over the course of my career, has been paid back many times over. If it is to be, it is up to me!

As a leader in your field, what leadership principles do you consider paramount for fostering a culture of innovation and resilience within an organisation, especially in times of uncertainty or change?

Innovation comes from long-term thinking and iterative implementation. Here are seven principles that leaders should consider paramount:

  1. Clarity:  Ensure that all stakeholders (board, staff, donors, funders, volunteers, supporters, policymakers, community, advocates for the cause, vendors etc) understand the organisation’s purpose and are aligned with its long-term goals. This clarity provides a foundation for innovation and resilience.
  2. Authenticity: Innovation needs to be persistent by design and leaders need to be authentic about it. Innovation initiatives that focus on visibility rather than value are mere actions without substantial or lasting impact.
  3. Trust: A culture of trust allows stakeholders to engage, explore, undertake risk-informed experiments and adapt to change more effectively with the aim of delivering on the organisational mission.
  4. Ethics: Ethical behaviour enhances resilience by ensuring trust and credibility, especially in difficult times.
  5. Diversity and Data: An inclusive environment where different perspectives, backgrounds, voices and well-analysed data is used and valued leads to more innovative solutions to challenges and uncertainties.
  6. Risk Tolerance:  Failure is an inherent part of being the innovator/ first mover/ early adopter. A culture that doesn’t punish failure but encourages learning from it will be more resilient.
  7. Collaboration: Alliances can offer new perspectives and resources for innovation and help build resilience through shared knowledge and support.

Could you share a brief overview of your keynote presentation and the key takeaways you aim to convey?

Passion and purpose light our fundraising roadmap. However, it’s our courage to take action that navigates us toward success. Through my keynote presentation I’ll share the successful trends in Asia and lessons the rest of the world can explore in their local context.

  • Emerging Trends in Asian Fundraising: Explore fundraising approaches and strategies that are gaining momentum in Asia.
  • Understanding the Asian Donor Psyche: The growth of donor-advised funds and family offices set up by Asians and the giving motivations and philanthropic trends.
  • Impact of ESG (environment, social, governance) reporting: The mandatory ESG reporting requirements has an impact on corporate and foundation giving.

The overall aim is to encourage attendees to consider how cross-cultural learning and collaboration can lead to greater impact and fundraising success through adapting these trends in their own organisations.

You’ve had a successful career and have achieved a lot in your field. Could you share a personal or professional experience that has been a turning point in your journey and imparted valuable lessons that our audience might benefit from?

My foray into the charity sector started as a volunteer in the mid-1980s. I boldly signed up for the road less travelled and that made all the difference – as I found my purpose as a mobiliser of resources for causes and my passion for offering people an opportunity to journey with me and address the needs in the community.

In 2008, I delivered two projects – my 3rd child at the age of 44 and launched my consulting business, having spent two decades in leadership positions in international nonprofits. Once again, the courage to make these decisions was a turning point in my personal and professional journey. Happy to report that the child and the business are thriving.

Networking is an integral part of professional growth, and you seem to have an extensive network. Could you offer advice on building and nurturing meaningful professional relationships in our industry, and how these connections have contributed to your success?

In any professional growth, including mine – connections have played a very important role. Here are some pointers to remember:

  1. Focuses on making genuine connections rather than only networking to get something.
  2. Networking is not selling, so don’t wait until you need something to network.
  3. When networking, aim to find common areas of interest as that will help nurture long-term relationships.
  4. Do not treat anyone as unimportant, they may become the decision maker.
  5. When you are successful, be the influential individual who champions new talent.

Usha Menon is a celebrated speaker, trainer, consultant and thought leader, with 36 years’ experience in the charity space. She’s held leadership positions at national and international developmental agencies and founded her consultancy 15 years ago working exclusively with social-impact organisations.

Usha will be a keynote speaker at the 2024 FIA Conference in Brisbane in February. To register or view the full conference program, session details and the incredible line-up of speakers please visit We encourage all fundraisers to invest in their professional development by attending conference.